The Philippines is known for sightings of various marine life including vulnerable and endangered creatures such as whale sharks and thresher sharks. Foreign tourists flock to the country every year for a chance to see, get up close, and swim with these interesting underwater creatures.
There is only one spot in the country which is a reliable destination for thresher sharks sightings – Malapascua Island!
What is a thresher shark?
The thresher shark is a lamniform shark, or mackerel shark in common terms. It is also called fox shark and has three species still existing – common thresher, bigeye thresher, and pelagic thresher. The latter being known to inhabit the waters of Malapascua Island.
Pelagic thresher shark is the smallest among the three species with an average body length of around 3 meters and weight of around 69 kilograms. It is known for its scythe-like tail which makes up about half of its body. This tail is used to hunt, whip or stun its prey which includes barracudas, lightfishes, escolars, squids, sardines, and smaller tunas.
These sharks are not aggressive and not dangerous to humans. It hasn’t been involved in any known attack on humans. In fact, it is shy and usually changes direction and swims away when a diver approaches.
Where is Malapascua and what’s so special about it?
Malapascua is located in the Visayas Sea. It is more than 6 kilometers away from Daanbantayan, the northernmost town of Cebu Island. While the island measures only about 2.5 by 1 kilometers, its waters are blessed with several kinds of marine creatures including thresher sharks.
Its Monad Shoal boasts of the most consistent sightings of thresher sharks in the world and there’s no off season because the sharks are present year-round. This is due to the presence of cleaner fishes which include moon wrasse and blue head fairy wrasse. These fish feed on external parasites and dead tissues accumulated by sharks. If not removed, these parasites can cause chronic diseases, developmental problems, and infections to the sharks.
Cleaner fish are particularly active early in the morning, so thresher sharks come to them to be cleaned. That explains dive activities to see the thresher sharks take place as early as 4 o’clock in the morning.
What else can you see during a dive at Malapascua?
Aside from thresher sharks and cleaner fish mentioned, divers may also be treated to sightings of large rays and other species of sharks such as hammerhead sharks, grey reef sharks, and whitetip sharks.
Other marine creatures found in the area include batfish, flutemouths, barracuda, tuna, mantis shrimp, pipefish, scorpionfish, free-swimming lionfish, moorish idols, schooling bannerfish, unicornfish, squid, octopus, various moray eels, and more than 100 species of nudibranchs. Most of these larger fishes are being cleaned up as well.
How to help protect thresher sharks?
Pelagic thresher sharks are classified as endangered due to overfishing. If measures to protect them are not strictly implemented, their number will continue to decrease and may disappear to extinction.
If you enjoy seeing the thresher sharks and all other marine creatures, there’s something you can do to help protect them. You can join volunteer programs and activities that promote protection of thresher sharks. Check out The Thresher Shark Research and Conservation Project, Save Philippine Seas, and Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute for volunteer works and other projects for the conservation of not only thresher sharks but other marine creatures as well.
You can also spread awareness to family, friends, and followers through social media, blogs, and vlogs.
No matter how small the step is, so long as we are moving forward towards the conservation not only of marine creatures, but our environment in general, it definitely helps make a difference.